I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s in years and regard their offerings to be more like industrial quasi-food than something i’d really sit down and call a meal. Nonetheless, the fast food giant remains a wildly popular and affordable reality for a huge slice of the world.
A couple years ago I wrote a post suggesting that McDonald’s could easily replace their beef burgers with seitan (a wheat protein product) and no one would notice the difference. I argued McDonald’s would save a fortune, health would be improved, and the carbon and resource footprint of McDonald’s would be massively slashed.
Now it seems at least part of that concept is being realized as McDonald’s plans to open vegetarian-only restaurants across India. According to the Wall Street Journal, the first veggie-arches will open in mid 2013 near a Sikh shrine in Amritsar.
McDonalds India already has a menu that is devoid of beef and pork – to satisfy local dietary habits which forbid the consumption of those meats. The company has also developed a number of long-popular vegetarian dishes and in most other cases substitutes chicken for beef (as in the Maharaja Mac). Although the move to open veggie-only stores represents a fine act of stakeholder engagement, it’s actually just a logical step in McDonald’s move to expand in India – and probably something that should have been thought of a while ago.
After all, with almost 25% of the population (equivalent to that of the US) identifying as vegetarian and pretty much everyone else avoiding beef, McDonalds has to think outside their traditional box if they ever want to expand in the country. The company was wise enough to start without beef in 1996 and has since expanded at an unusually slow pace to about 200 restaurants today. The move to go strictly vegetarian at some restaurants will be a fascinating one to follow.
Embracing vegetarian cooking is refreshing and almost certainly better for the health of people and planet. Likewise, recognizing the local culture in areas where McDonald’s sets up shop is laudable and something any consumer facing company can learn from. Whether or not McDonald’s has consumer health foremost in mind or has simply had a market based reality check remains to be seen.